“The language of all the English-speaking peoples is moving in the direction of New Zealand English”


From Landfall Review:

Within a decade or two of their first arrival in New Zealand, English-speaking settlers began to note the changes wrought upon their native tongue by their experiences in a new environment – and their descendants have been gleefully analysing the development of New Zealand English ever since. Elizabeth Gordon’s Living Language: Exploring Kiwitalk and Dianne Bardsley’s In the Paddock and on the Run are recent additions to the pantheon, while A.W. Reed’s Place Names of New Zealand has recently appeared in a new enlarged edition revised by Peter Dowling.

Many years ago I was lunching with Professor Ian Gordon of Victoria University, who at the time was helping to compile a New Zealand edition of the Collins English Dictionary. ‘The language of all the English-speaking peoples,’ he declared, ‘is moving in the direction of New Zealand English.’ I was stunned and delighted by this bold statement, as I had always been taught that the colourful local words we brought to school represented a corruption of the King’s English and should be exorcised at all costs. I recall submitting a story in which I wrote ‘cow bail’, only to have it corrected to ‘cow byre’ by my English teacher. Is there any local sharemilker (now there’s a fine Kiwi word) who has ever used the word ‘byre’?

These recollections came to mind as I took up Elizabeth Gordon’s Living Language: Exploring Kiwitalk, for the author, a former lecturer in English and Linguistics at the University of Canterbury, is refreshingly free from the heavy load of prejudices carried by so many of us when we discuss the use and abuse of our beloved English language. The book gets off to a slightly unfortunate start for a wordsmith, with an unnecessary little verb floating freely in the fourth line of the Introduction, but after that Gordon treats us to a thoroughly enjoyable and quirky wander through the idiosyncrasies of our version of the world’s most widely-spoken tongue.

“Quintessentially No. 8”, David Elworthy, Landfall Review